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Sydney, NSW, Australia, May 2012

Friday, July 6th, 2012


I traveled to Sydney (first time to Australia, and first time significantly into the southern hemisphere — Jakarta hardly counts) for work. Didn’t spend much time outside the hotel and customer sites but we did visit Circular Quay one night. Also there was a strange angel alley behind my hotel… Click on the photo to see the full set on Flickr.

Northern Thailand, December 2011

Sunday, February 5th, 2012


At the beginning of December I joined my wife’s family to northern Thailand; Chang Mai, Chang Rai and Mae Sai. It sounds more exciting that it was. Since it was a packaged tour it was more about shopping than any thing else really. The non-shopping things were mostly not something I would normally do — Elephant show, Monkey show, things like that. Given my stance on animals I would not have gone on this trip at all except that my wife’s whole family goes somewhere every year and we have never joined them. Now that Tori is old enough to go it was more for her than anything else.

The first day we started by visiting Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep []. While not the oldest or biggest temple it was at least a working temple and not just a tourist attraction. After the Wat we took a ride further into the hills to visit a Hmong village. Not much to the village mostly just people selling the same crafts and trinkets you could buy most places, only cheaper. They did have a display garden showing a lot of plants that were traditionally grown in the hills — most interesting of all was the small grove of heroin poppies; planted just to show the tourists how heroin is harvested.


After lunch it was off to the factories; leather, semiprecious stones, paper umbrellas and honey. We didn’t buy much, first day is a bit too soon to spend money. And the factories were not really that interesting anyway.

The second day we visited the Hill Tribe Village, where we saw women from the Karen hill tribes; Long Neck Women are the most famous and the reason everyone goes but we saw a few different traditional outfits. The village is not run by the UN like some of the larger ones, which are really refugee camps. And apparently the UN has warned about the evils of the villages being run as tourist attractions. I don’t know, but the village was a bit sad. The older women seem to be OK or at least resigned to their fate and have not problem with having their photos taken, they will even pose in better places so the light is good. The younger women where more shy. They again the younger women had cell phones and I expect that they know those photos will end up on the internet. The second afternoon was all about not-so-wild animals. Elephants at Mae Taeng Elephant Park. Followed by Monkey and then snake shows and finally tigers (who I think were drugged, as people could pay to sit with the tigers and take photos.)

The third day started early as we joined another tour group and took a large bus to Chang Rai [], The Golden Triangle and Mae Sai []. And on the way we stopped at a hot spring along the highway called Mae Khajan. Where you can buy and boil your own eggs in the hot spring, right after you soak your feet in a less hot part of the spring.


The only stop in Chang Rai was Wat Rong Khun [] also known as the White Temple. Rong Khun is modern but it’s stark white exterior is interesting, most Thai temples have a lot of gold but the only part of Rong Khun that is gold is the bathrooms. An interesting juxtaposition. The walls inside the temple are also decorated with all sorts of modern characters on one wall opposite he images of nirvana. All-in-all an interesting place.

The Golden Triangle on the other hand is a tourist trap. The term “Golden Triangle” used to refer to the area centered in Northern Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar, so called, as I understand it, because the trade in Heroin was only done in gold. Anyway, these days the Thai tourism office has taken the name as it’s own to refer to the place where the Ruak River and the Mekong river come together forming the boarders of Thailand, Myanmar and Laos. The place is a total trap; just a collection of stalls selling tourist trinkets and bobbles. The government built a large gold buddha to server as the focal point of the shops and restaurants. And you can take a boat trip around the rivers to get close to all three countries. Myanmar’s boarder is dominated by a Thai owned casino and the Lao border is dominated by a Chinese owned casino. But you can’t get to those so easily.

You can however get to Don Sao Island, which is technically in Laos but since it is operated as a tourist trap by the Chinese who have leased all the land up and down the Lao side of the river you don’t need a visa to visit — you don’t even need to show your passport, just pay the toll. There is not much to see on Don Sao island, a few stalls selling things, mostly the same as on the Thai side of the river, but cheaper and some dirty Lao kids playing in between the stalls. Totally not worth the price of the boat ride since you don’t get a stamp in your passport.


The final stop on the day trip was at Mae Sai. Mae Sai is the northern most point in Thailand, where you can (assuming you have the right visas) walk across a bridge into Myanmar. The size of the street market on the Thai side of the boarder is impressive, stall after stall selling everything you can imagine in a Southeast Asia street market.

On the last day while everyone else slept in I took a ride to one of the markets to see the monks making their rounds to collect offerings for food. I had expected to see the monks walking around and the people giving various offerings. What I saw instead was that the monks just stand around outside the market and people, as they leave the market, buy pre-packaged offering (rice, veggies and a lotus) to give the monks. This makes the whole process seem less exotic and more commercialized. I don’t know why I expected anything different but I did feel a bit disappointed in the end.

All-in-all it was an OK trip. Some interesting things, a lot of things I would not have gone too on my own, and Candice and Tori got to spend time with the extended family on that side. Which was the point. I was not that impressed with what I saw of Northern Thailand, but I guess I should reserve my judgment, maybe if you get off the packaged tour path you can see more really cool stuff.

Istanbul, Turkey, September 2011

Wednesday, November 9th, 2011


After many years of passing through Istanbul on my way to other places in the region for work I finally made it out of the airport to explore the city. Istanbul was always a destination that I wanted to see, more exotic (in my mind) than Athens, or Rome but just as important in western history — maybe more important. Finally making it I was only able to see the old city itself, the Bazaar and Sultanahmet areas, but that includes most of the major sites; Hagia Sophia [], The Blue Mosque [], the Grand Bazaar [], Topkapi Palace [] and the Basilica Cistern [], as well as many other important and historical sites. Unfortunately this was just a visit to Istanbul and I did not make it other places in Turkey that I would like to visit; Ephesus [], Cappadocia [], Mount Nemrut [] and Troy []


But enough Wikipedia links. Lets talk about the city; amazing. The site that has been on my ‘must see’ list for years was Hagia Sophia. It did not disappoint me. My hotel was only a block away and my room had a view directly on Hagia Sophia. I arrived early, checking in at 8AM, well before the room was ready, so I immediately headed over to Hagia Sophia. I spent about three hours just wondering around and exploring the details of this grand building, which started life as the church, was converted into a Mosque and is now a museum. I think it is these layers of history that gives Hagia Sophia an elegance making it more than just a decaying building. It’s older and not as architecturally beautiful as the Imperial Mosques which were modeled on it. Yet, for me, the Imperial Mosques, lack the sense of presence that Hagia Sophia has. They have a single purpose, where Hagia Sophia has been many things to many people.

As for the Imperial Mosques themselves; I visited three of them; The Blue Mosque [] aka Sultan Ahmet Mosque, The New Mosque [] and the Süleymaniye Mosque” []. Outwardly I thought that the Blue Mosque was the most beautiful. Fitting that it is the closest to Hagia Sophia, and was the first mosque built with Hagia Sophia as the architectural inspiration (as were all the Imperial Mosques and most of the mosques in Istanbul that came after). The inside of the Blue Mosque is overwhelming in its use of tile, particularly the İznik tiles [], though there are many less exquisite tiles due to the demand the construction put on production. At the other end of the spectrum is the Süleymaniye Mosque, where the use of tiles is much less. The effect is more serene and the extensive and peaceful grounds around the Süleymaniye Mosque are wonderful. I read in the Süleymaniye Mosque is considered the ‘height’ of the Ottoman style, but it was not my favorite of the Imperial Mosques I visited. Somewhere between the Blue Mosque and Süleymaniye Mosque is the “New Mosque” or Yenni Mosque. I’m not sure why I preferred the New Mosque, outside it is similar to the Süleymaniye Mosque though there are no grounds to speak of and inside it has every square centimeter covered in tiles but somehow the overall effect is not overwhelming as it was in the Blue Mosque. The sense of peace of the Süleymaniye Mosque is achieved while keeping the beauty of the tiles. I don’t know why, I just preferred the New Mosque over the others.


Away from religious buildings the two major attractions I visited were the Basilica Cistern and Grand Bazaar.

The Cistern was very cool. Maybe because I read a lot of fantasy books as a teenager but the setting of an abandoned cistern on the scale of the Basilica Cistern is fascinating. The seemingly endless columns disappearing into the darkness and the sounds of water. Very Dungeons & Dragons.


The Grand Bazaar on the other hands was a let down. I expected some sort of medieval market but, while the building itself if mostly old, the feeling is not of a genuine historical site but more like a touristy strip mall. Maybe my expectations where unfair but I don’t think they were too off; I expected something more like, but better, grander, than what I found in the old city of Jerusalem []. The Grand Bazaar is a random collection of the many clones of the same 5 or 6 basic shops and cafe’s — the same ones you can find selling tourist nick-knacks on all the streets around the Grand Bazaar. I was not impressed.

Overall Istanbul as a great time. I wish I had more than a few days, more time to explore more sites and enjoy life in general in a great city. It was actually refreshing that there are not too many Greek or Roman (Byzantium) ruins in the city. Having been around Italy and Greece I’ve seen my share of temples to Zeus or Jupiter and columns and arches. The Ottoman style was something I am much less familiar with. The most obvious Ottoman architecture is the Blue Mosque — or more properly the Sultan Ahmet Mosque which sits almost next to Hagia Sofia.

Jerusalem, Israel/Palestine — July 2011

Friday, September 30th, 2011


I had a day to take some quick shots around Jerusalem while in Israel for work this July. Not a lot of shots. unfortunately the main thing I wanted to take new shots of — The Dome of the Rock — is off-limits, along with the entire Temple Mount or Noble Sanctuary, to those not worshiping on the weekend. Second best option: climb up the Mount of Olives to take sunrise photos. However… it takes a lot longer then I estimated to climb up the Mount of Olives, so they didn’t turn out to be “sunrise” photos as much as mid-morning photos. C’est la vie. Click the big image to see the rest of the set.

Sunset on the farm

Monday, November 29th, 2010


That photo may be the last time I ever see a sunset from my grandparents farm. They are not getting any younger and given the cost and time to make the trip to rural Minnesota from halfway around the world I don’t know when I will get the time and change to do it again. I’d like to do it again. My daughter — the driver behind this trip — really enjoyed the farm and the whole trip. And it would be nice for her to spend more time with her great-grandparents. Especially since she is the first great-grandchild.


When I was growing up I spent a few weeks every other year on my grandparents farm. A lot of things have changed, or at least my perception of a lot of things has changed since I stopped going on family vacation when I was a teenager.

The most obvious change is that my grandfather does not farm any more. He rents the land out. So gone are the cows and tractors that dominated the daily routine when I was a kid. Other changes that I see; a lot less crop diversity than I used to see. Everything was corn and soybean. There were not even that many cows, just a sea of corn and soybean. Interestingly my uncle, who still makes a living farming, says that most of their soybean crop is shipped to Taiwan and Singapore. It’s a small world when you consider that the soybean that turned into my stinky tofu in Singapore might have been planted and harvested by my uncle halfway around the world.


The other thing that you can’t help but notice is that windmills. Everywhere. I do remember there being one, or two power generating windmills off somewhere to the east the last few times I visited the farm as a kid. Now they are everywhere. And trucks carrying 100 foot blades are all over the roads. Seeing all the windmills gives me a bit more hope that despite the blowhards in Washington and their inability to move beyond the “did we cause it” to the “how to stop it” discussions on global warming (or climate change) that the world is moving on without them. The exploitation of renewable energy sources is proceeding apace in the commercial world; let the politicians blow on.

Click on any of the photos here to see the set over at Flickr [].

Athens, Greece — March 2010

Friday, May 7th, 2010


Candice an I went to Athens for a weekend in March. Why a weekend in Greece? Job interview. But the job is in Boston — don’t ask why the interview was in Greece it’s complicated. I did get the job, I’m in a hotel in Boston as I write this.

When we arrived in Greece the taxis were all on strike, luckily the train from the airport was still running so we could get to our hotel. But given that the city has gone from strikes and protests to riots and firebombs in the bast two days I guess it could have been much worse.


Flying in on Thursday night and out on Sunday afternoon makes for a short trip and throw in an afternoon for a job interview and we didn’t see too much. But our hotel was within walking distance of Monistiraki, the heart of the tourists sites and the Acropolis. Which was good because the Acropolis was the only “must see” on my list.

I’ve been to Athens before [], a bunch of the people I knew in London were from Athens and I spent a week there in the winter of 2001 []. I have a lot of film photos from then. I’ll have to dig them out and take a look but in my memory they are actually better then the shots I have from this trip. For some reason the sun was just harsh and the scaffolding was everywhere!


Anyway, we visited the various sites on and around the Acropolis — the Parthenon [], the Erechtheum []. The ruins of the Agora [] or Market from the ancient Greek and Roman eras. Which includes the best preserved ancient Greek temple in the world; the Hephaisteion [] aka the Temple of Hephaestus. We even went to see the Acropolis Museum [] which was lacking given that the best of the Parthenon marbles are, um, in London. (Oh yea, it’s like picking at someone’s open wound.)

Really that’s about all the sights we saw. The rest of the time we enjoyed the local food and wondered around the tourist shopping areas of Monistiraki and Syntagma. That’s all the time we had. One day I’d like to see more of Greece than just Athens; the islands and the other big ancient cities of Delphi, Sparta and Olympia. One day. It’s all on the list.

Click on the photos to go to Flickr and see the whole photoset [].

Kyoto, Japan — January 2010

Monday, April 5th, 2010


Another [] trip [] to Japan in the middle of winter. More specifically a trip to Kyoto.

This trip was precipitated by a visit by my mother and sister to Singapore to see my daughter. Since their flight was via Tokyo, they decided to take a stopover and visit the land of the rising sun, a new destination for them to check off. Candice, Tori and I decided to join them.

Even though the flight was to Tokyo we spent the whole trip, sans train rides to an from Narita airport, in and around Kyoto. This was my planning—Kyoto has the highest density of places to see. And while I’d like to see stuff I’ve never had the chance to see it made sense for my mother and sister to see the ‘must see’ sites in Kyoto on their first trip. It also made sense to go to some place I was familiar with to make it easier to get around with Tori. So Kyoto it was.


We only had 5 days, so we focused on the big must see sites: Nijo-jo [] the Shogun home, Ginkaku-ji [] the Silver Pavilion and Kinkaku-ji [] the Golden Pavilion. Fushimi Inari-taisha [] and Kiyomizu-dera [].

In addition to temple and shrine hopping, we spent our evenings wondering the streets of Gion [] where we spotted not one, but two Geisha. We spotted both Geisha on the same night walking along one of the tea house lined streets. In fact as Tori was playing in a small water fixture next to a door we almost got run over by one of the Geisha when she came out of the door on her way somewhere. No pictures of Geisha though, it was dark and flashing people in the face is not something I am good at.


It was a good trip with the family, Tori had a lot of fun and I have a lot of photos of her. But overall I did not take a lot of good photos. The winter weather and focus on Tori were not conducive to taking photos. I took a lot of snapshots but few turned into good photos. There is defiantly a bent towards good photos in the morning, less time and attention to the shots as the day went on. Still, I did take a lot of shots and some turned out good. Click on any of the photos here to see the set over at Flickr [].

Malacca, Malaysia — October 2009

Thursday, November 5th, 2009


I have visited Malacca [] before but only took a few photos, because I was only there for a few hours. This time I was there overnight but I still didn’t have time to explore much other then the Chinese district and Stadthuys Square []. The problem is the drive up and back takes so long. I don’t think exploring Malacca should take more than a couple of days but that means staying a few nights when you factor in the drive and the oppressive sun and heat. Anyway, maybe I’ll make it back one day.


Malacca’s Chinatown, if you can call it that, fascinates me because it is what Singapore was or would be if not for the Singapore Governments intervention. The Peranakan culture filling the falling-down, left-over colonial era “Shophouses” []. On almost everything that could count the modernized Singapore has Malacca beat, but Malacca does retain an air of history which Singapore has lost with the leveling and fixing-up of the shophouses.

Click on the photos to see the whole set [] on Flickr [].

Rome, Italy — November 2007

Tuesday, January 6th, 2009


I originally drafted this post in May ’08—more than 5 month after the trip—and now it’s January ’09. So not only am I a slacker, I’m a world class slacker. But without further sarcastic self-deprecation here is Candice & beggs adventures in Rome []!

Rome was the last big stop on our delayed honeymoon trip to Italy. The Eternal City deserves to be the icing on the cake. I mean, this was home to Julius Caesar [], Cicero [], a whole list of other famous Romans [], not to mention The Roman Republic & Empire []! Few places rank this high on the history scale.


As with everywhere else we went in Italy the choice to go in November was a bit of a cramp—sun sets too early. But most of the big sights in Rome were within easy walking distance of our hotel on the forum side of the Quirinal Hill []: Trajan’s Forum [], the original Roman Forum [], The Colosseum [], The Trevi Fountain [], The Pantheon [], and a ton of other things too numerous to mention let alone visit in the short time we were in Rome. (Add to that the Vatican which will be separate post and the amount of sightseeing you can do in Rome is awe inspiring and mind numbing.)


Two slightly annoying things; the Spanish Steps were covered in scaffolding. And, the number of people was amazing, I can’t imagine visiting at the height of the tourist season if late November is so crowded!

On the non-sightseeing side of things; we stayed in a very nice hotel, great view of the tops of the building leading down the Quirinal Hill to Trajan’s Forum. It was the best hotel we stayed in while in Italy, save the best for last. Most expensive too. We found a couple of brilliant places to eat, great Italian food and we at Euro-infected Chinese food at a small place near the Trevi Fountain, but off the beaten path.

Rome is defiantly a city I could live in for a long time and not get tired of; the food the sights! Oh man, and the people are not as obnoxious as the Parisians. But I think Florence just beats out Rome in my list of dream cities to live in. Just walking around the streets in Rome is amazing, the palpable history and the wonderful feeling the mix of buildings give you is amazing.

Novosibirsk, Russia — November, 2008

Sunday, December 7th, 2008


Novosibirsk [], dead smack in the middle of Siberia, is not some place I think I would normally travel to. So, why did I go to Siberia… in November? Work. Unfortunately I showed up, so I’m told, in the three week gap of “nastiness between the beauty of fall and the beauty of winter.” That means something about the fall leaves color and the winter wonderland of permanent snow. When I was there everything was gray and mud, rain and wind. But it was not all that bad.

I actually spent most of my time in what could be called a satellite city to Novosibirsk, called Akademgorodok []. During the days if the Soviets this was the larges of a number of purpose built closed towns filled with the brightest brains of the Soviet world. Akademgorodok is filled with large academies of every possible discipline; Math, Physics, Geology, Chemistry and the piste-de-resistance the Nuclear research academy. Wide roads, tree lined boulevards and parks must have provided a happy escapist world for the scientists.


Too bad it did not last. Since the end of the USSR Akademgorodok has seen better days. The end of government money funding pure research seems to have hit Akademgorodok hard. Recently foreign money has started to make its way in and local entrepreneurs have started a ‘Silicon Forest’ of high tech companies.

I only spent a single day in Novosibirsk itself—and a winters days is not long enough to see everything I wanted to see. But what I did see is an interesting hodgepodge of a city. I felt the same hectic uncontrolled pace that I felt in Shanghai. Novosibirsk is a city that has grown too fast to keep up with itself.


One of the things I wanted to see but did not get photos of is the Novosibirsk train station—a big stop on the Trans-Siberian Railway []. Unfortunately I did not get to take the train to or from Novosibirsk, it takes three plus days to Moscow or Beijing, the bosses thought that was too long. Oh, and it’s not cheap. I did see the big green exterior of the station, but it was after dark in a car on the way back to the hotel in Akademgorodok. So no photos. Maybe next time.

Speaking of the railroad, Novosibirsk has a rail history museum. Everything from steam powered pre-soviet era locomotives to trains make in Novosibirsk in the ’90s.

I did see the Nikolai Chapel, (sorry no link for this one,) once supposedly the geographical center of the Russian Empire. Now, not so much, the Kazakh border is only a few hundred kilometers south.

And what Soviet city would be complete without a statue of Lenin?